Palawan sails in with priceless memories

Funny thing, history, memories, how the past comes back around…

One of the prized possessions and chapters in Spruce Point Inn history is this photograph, hanging in our lobby, of Robert Kennedy, with his wife Ethel, Mr. & Mrs. John Glenn, Andy Williams and Claudine Longet and other guests, posing aboard their sailboat that had just tied up at the Spruce Point Inn dock.

We were reminded of that history when the yacht Palawan VII showed up in Boothbay Harbor last week. Memory served, and after checking the yacht name on the horseshoe life preserver in that old black and white photograph, we confirmed that Palawan III was the name of that August 1967 guest.

Further research revealed that the Palawans – I through VII – were commissioned and owned by Thomas J. Watson former president and CEO of IBM. He named the yachts after the island in the Philippines that he dreamed of visiting, following in the footsteps of the great explorer Magellan. Watson achieved his dream in 1986 with Palawan VI, a Sparkman & Stephens-designed 60-footer, following a heart attack in 1970. In his words, in a piece he wrote for Yachting,  “… having recovered from a moderate heart attack…my life priorities were completely rearranged. Being able one day to sit on my front porch in Greenwich, look down at the boat at the dock, and say, “Well Palawan, we’ve done it all,” would mean the fulfillment of my third dream cruise … to follow Magellan’s track to his Strait.”


But there’s another story about Tom Watson and that summer on Palawan I with RFK. Evan Thomas tells the story in his biography, Robert Kennedy: A Life. The Kennedys had borrowed Palawan III to cruise the coast of Maine with their friends. One day while sailing, the breeze picked up and the leather bomber jacket RFK is wearing in our picture – a jacket that had belonged to President John Kennedy — went over the side. Without hesitation (or consideration of the temperature of the water in the middle of the Gulf of Maine) Bobby dove in and retrieved the jacket, one that JFK wore often. These picture show him wearing it at the 1962 America’s Cup races and Bobby wearing it later. That jacket and its memories meant a lot that August, still just a few years after the President’s death.

Then Bobby died too in 1968 and the jacket was left in a closed-up house with the pictures. The jacket sold at auction last November for $629,000. And now Palawan is back in Boothbay waters, on charter. The memory stands at the dock, as she did on Watson’s. Leaving priceless oceanside memories, made in Maine, in their wakes.